The federal government is forecasting a 14 percent decrease in Florida orange production next year and a drop in grapefruit of 11.5 percent.
The National Agriculture Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its report Wednesday.
In another sign of the citrus greening epidemic facing the industry, the service foresees yields of only 70 million boxes of oranges and 9.6 million boxes of grapefruit, the state’s signature fruits.
It was the first citrus crop forecast for the 2016-2017 season.
“Although not unexpected, today’s forecast is disheartening and further proof of the trying times facing Florida’s citrus industry,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a press release.
“Production of our state’s signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago, and the future of Florida citrus depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening,” he said. “We must continue to support our growers and provide them with every tool available to combat greening.”
Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, was more sanguine about the future of citrus.
“Today’s crop estimate, while a decline from last season, is a representation of the unrelenting dedication and hard work of Florida citrus growers,” Shepp said in a statement.
“In the face of significant challenges, (growers) continue to push forward with new plantings and advanced agricultural techniques that allow them to maintain the viability of their groves,” Shepp added. “Citrus greening is a disease unlike any we have ever faced, but the Florida citrus industry will prevail.”
State Rep. Ben Albritton, the Wauchula Republican who chairs the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, also saw the glass as half-full.
The 70 million boxes of oranges “represents industry stability and now we have to have the fortitude to continue to reinvest and do so at unprecedented levels,” Albritton said.
Putnam has issued a “crisis declaration” seeking approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to let citrus growers “use certain antimicrobial treatments to combat greening,” his office said.